"Splendidly, one of the young ladies asked was able to tell Mr Fowley that yes, she already had a charming boyfriend, and no, she would not be joining in a tantric embrace with him onstage. Great stuff."
State X New Forms festival 14-15/12/07 Paard van Troje, Den Haag
Good old State X New Forms! Where would all the poor aspirant boho intellectuals be without you? Joking aside, this festival is really becoming a red-letter day in our calendar, with each year’s show revealing new musical heroes to admire and fawn over (who could forget Julie Mittens or My Cat is an Alien from 2006?)
Friday 14th December
Luckily State X has an ethic that discourages the media love-in that other Dutch festivals seem to descend into. In fact, in a startling reversal of roles on Friday night, a bedraggled line of journalists and reporters were forced to wait outside the Paard’s entrance whilst decent, ticket buying members of the public were allowed in.
Once inside we immediately made tracks in the direction of the Kleine Zaal, hoping to catch Norwegian rockers Shining. We had been promised a level of multi instrumentalism unheard of in a hard rock band; clarinets and twiddling synths were to do battle with hard rockin’ Nordic guitar. It sounded unpalatable enough to be unmissable. Shining’s fans were scary enough, a knot of them looked as if they’d just wangled some 48 hour passes from U boat duty. Luckily the band looked a little more conventional, if very rugged… As for the music, shall we say it was determined in manner? The slightly convoluted workouts - making full use of said clarinet and other wind instruments – were underpinned by a steely spine of guitar and drums. Head-banging and thorough, Shinig were on a mission to pulverize the audience. We must admit we enjoyed it thoroughly, even the unpalatable bits. Music for tanks.
Next it was off to the Café to see local heroes in waiting Appie Kim. Incendiary have been an often enthralled witness to the rapid development of this band; don’t forget that a year to the day almost we were chronicling the enjoyably chaotic gig played by Natasha and Marcel’s previous outfit, dNV. Now, barely nine months in, Appie have an LP and a UK tour to their name, and yet more songs, some of which were promised this evening. Their audience seems to have changed too. Gone is the noticeable disdain… respect is given, people shut up and listen and the set is applauded throughout. Still, it takes a hard heart not to applaud brilliant pop songs like Sail. The band have gone up another notch in terms of performance; the drumming is much more powerful, the interpretations beefier, looser, darker. The new stuff, with its tom-tom thump and extended riffery brought the Velvet Underground to mind. Yes, you read that right, the Velvets. I like these long loose work outs. More of this if you please, Appie Kim.
Over to the Basement ran Incendiary, just in time to catch the last couple of tracks from Belgium’s Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat, who had brought a small tribe of bedraggled fans over the border. These fans, unsmiling, mooched respectfully through an acoustically-lead set, strongly backed up as it was with the inevitable array of diverse instruments. Before you think I’m taking the piss, I’d better say that this lad, Stef Heeren has got talent in bucket loads, belting out a form of Gothick protest song, nodding in spirit towards Nick Cave now and again. He’s got an interesting voice; his warbling, slightly strained delivery somehow adds real punch and emotional direction to his music. Check this guy out. We then stuck around the Basement to catch a snippet of America’s Spires That In The Sunset Rise, a slightly formidable female duo (if only for the way they bossed soundman and audience in respectively requesting more amplification and less chatter)… Their muse is dreamy and Gothic in the Byron/Shelley sense of the word. Their opening couple of tracks, using harp and viola were simply incredible, managing to be blissed-out and pretty scary at the same time.
A reporter’s job is never done and off we rushed to the Kleine Zaal to catch Iceland’s Olafur Arnalds, who combined gently pulsating synth beats with a string quartet contriving to create a reflective, very hippy-ish vibe. People sat on the floor listening to this quiet, beautiful but always melancholy music. Films were projected behind the group; films showing miserable teenagers with fringes hugging trees, or lying down in a fit of limp despair. It all fitted very well with the feeling of gentle ennui.
These Scandinavians are a rum lot. Comparing the chugging Viking abandon of Shining with Arnald’s unutterable feyness would lead one to believe that our Nordic cousins have vast mental spaces to negotiate between the polar instincts of heady abandon and reflective misery. Maybe that’s why the Scando bloc churns out so many good bands. Who knows? Who cares?
We stuck around the Kleine Zaal for Twilight Sad who with Glaswegian cussedness seemed intent on breaking all the State X rules. There wasn’t a violin in sight for one thing, never mind a tabla. Twilight Sad instead relied on that most unfashionable of formulas, guitar, bass, drums and vocals; creating a booming, crashing guitar sound augmented by a vocal delivery which now and again bordered on the berserk. Despite the odd reference back to East Kilbride, (the dum-der-dum bass lines were very reminiscent of the Mary Chain at their fuzzy peak) the band never gave off the feeling of belonging to any scene but their own. Now and again things got a bit formulaic, but we liked them.
Off to the Main Hall for the first time to catch the fabulous Jackson and his Computer Band. Incendiary have long been fans of this gentleman’s muse. In many ways Jackson’s music is the perfect demonstration of what digital means; fractured, restless collages reduced to a tiny, almost molecular particle. What the hell, its great. On Jackson walks, a strangely two-dimensional character, it looks as if he’s been airbrushed backstage. Furthermore his rampant bouffant suggests a bit part in some US TV soap is his for the taking if only he’d quit this pesky experimentalism. This nascent showmanship keeps the crowd on tenterhooks with Jackson’s set always promising something that never actually materialises. You get the feeling that the crowd are waiting for just five minutes longer for the disparate, ever-changing dissonance to finally come together to create something so powerful that the gates of Heaven will be rent asunder. That it never does is, I suppose, the ace up his sleeve.
By now the Main Hall is getting very full indeed. Aphex Twin follows Jackson, and for many punters this is the act they’ve come to see. After an interminable wait, Mr James appears and the Twin’s intense, hypnotic grooves begin to assert themselves. Oh, whilst we’re about it, a word on the build up. Why the bloody hell do deejays (or artists performing with turntables) think they need a long build up? Why? It’s especially strange when you consider the unprepossessing appearance and actions of folk such as the Twin. It’s not as if he cavorted naked with a brace of goats… I’m obviously missing the point somewhere. At least Aphex Twin’s set was tremendous. He was up for it, so was the crowd, classics were played and a communion of sorts was achieved.
Off we popped to take in Crunc Tesla’s experimental vibe, but really, we were fried and the man’s relentless dissonance, not to mention his chum’s rapping finished us off big style. No discredit to Mr Tesla of course but his muse doesn’t suit a 3am gig. Off to Bedfordshire for us!
Saturday 15th December
Saturday’s round of entertainment promised on paper to be pretty damned spectacular. How often do you get to see the talents of James Blackshaw, Kim Fowley, Michael Gira, Scout Nibblett, Sunn O))) and the Strange Death of Liberal England under one roof?
Blackshaw’s gig had been moved to later in the evening so Team Incendiary were able to catch the legendary Kim Fowley perform with Playlab, an organisation who promote artistic happenings and meetings and general pandemonium… You know the kind of thing. After a lot of sixties style build up, Mr Fowley entered stage left, stick in hand, hat on head, and certainly not as pissed as he was the previous evening. A disparate bunch of musicians had joined him. Fowley’s intention was to make it up as he went along, relying on each musician’s ability to stick within the framework of a slightly Barrett-esque jam. Some frantic stick waving would begin when Mr F decided that a particular band member needed to bring more to the stew. It was all very reminiscent of M.E. Smith’s amp fiddling during recent Fall concerts. Lyrically, Fowley played around with a lot of Gravesian or Huxleyan musings; essentially UR-New Age cult metaphors, all the while trying to entice young ladies onto the stage, presumably to gyrate wantonly and lasciviously. Splendidly, one of the young ladies asked (one known to Team Incendiary) was able to tell Mr Fowley that yes, she already had a charming boyfriend, and no, she would not be joining in a tantric embrace with him onstage. Great stuff.
After this it was time for some Drone Folk. Along with hung parliaments, drone folk is something Belgium does well. I’m getting quite addicted. Tonight’s first exponent was Dirk Serries who plays under the name Fear Falls Burning. A large, slightly balding gentleman, inevitably dressed in black, Serries sat down in front of an impressive array of pedals and proceeded to create a hypnotic, almost maddeningly static series of droney effects. The noise certainly had a soothing, almost balmy effect on the senses, Serries’ self-effacing presence somehow made the whole thing quite spell-binding. Check him out.
Back to the Kleine Zaal in time to fully enjoy the majesty of Michael Gira’s dark folk rambles. Gira is something of a legend for his time with Swans, but to be honest, it’s his recent work with Akron/Family that have really captured Incendiary’s imagination. And he doesn’t disappoint live, tonight the acoustic folk-grooves were delivered like a series of mini mantras to novices eager to ingest every morsel of wisdom. Oh, while we’re about it, what about the man’s voice? Gira’s manic, preacher-style yodelling has never been more perfectly realised in a concert hall; My Brother’s Man being an incredible highlight of the set. An ecstatic crowd hung around the Kleine Zaal, for following Mr G was Scout Nibblett, and we weren’t about to miss that now, were we?
Nibblett loped on, sans blonde wig - stared intently, maybe a tad defensively at her microphone and with nary a hello started her set off. Nibblett is as manic a proposition as Gira live, but whereas the ex Swans leader gives off the feeling of an amiable (if slightly unhinged) alternative preacher, Nibblett’s approach is to bottle up her muse until it literally explodes out of her, like lava from a volcano. After a couple of quiet numbers, she could hold things in no longer, that cracked, quiet approach adopted for her more somnolent musings is seen as merely a decoy for a set of rousing, fuzz-heavy tracks where - not to put too fine a point on it - she screams her bloody head off. A slight figure, not given to throwing herself about a stage, Nibblett can still hold an audience with skill; perhaps its the feeling that she’s giving everything she’s got emotionally, perhaps its the fact no-one really knows what’s coming next.
After the supercharged atmosphere of the Kleine Zaal, it’s nice to get away to the Basement, indeed, a pleasure doubled as its time for James Blackshaw. Mr Blackshaw has had the odd glass of pop previous to his show, and who wouldn’t after seeing Gira and Nibblett? It obviously hasn’t affected his playing one iota. Gradually the place fills up, and seats are reverently taken, for Blackshaw’s vibe is essentially that of a wandeing gleeman. And believe me, no-one can play a twelve string guitar like this lad. Gossamer thin webs of sound are created in front of the rapt audience; webs that shimmer, crystalline, before melting into the ether. The music has a faintly bucolic quality to it, rather like Harold Budd’s rippling piano runs, it is there to soothe and to lull, but it is so damned persistent in its quality. An all too short gig (Mr B’s requests to play an encore his audience craves for are turned down by a bossy apparatchick) and it’s back off to the bar.
Time to relax.
Later scenes of revelry saw Incendiary magazine, Messrs Gira, Blackshaw, his charming lady companion and several members of Playlab and State X discussing the work of Rhys Chatham over a decidedly dodgy bottle of something posing as Scotch. It is at times like this that you realise the soul of alternative music is alive and kicking. All hail State X!
Words: Richard Foster
Photos: Mariska Van Den Hoven.